RAM v. JOHN DOE/JANE DOE et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Esther Salas on 11/13/2023. (Notice of Mail) (dam)
Not for Publication
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 22-4413 (ES) (MAH)
JOHN DOE & JANE DOE,
SALAS, DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff Sahil Ram, an inmate at South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”) in Bridgeton, New
Jersey, is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See D.E.
No. 1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”)). The Court has screened the Complaint pursuant 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) to determine whether the Court should dismiss it as frivolous
or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which the Court may grant relief, or because it seeks
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. For the reasons below, the Court
DISMISSES the Complaint in its entirety without prejudice.
According to Plaintiff, in November 2021, while he was incarcerated at Northern State
Prison (“NSP”), prison dieticians served him cold, unsanitary food. (See Compl. at 6).2 Plaintiff
“was so hungry that [he] was practically forced to eat it.” (Id.).
The Court construes the well-pleaded factual allegations of the Complaint as true for the purpose of this
Opinion. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008).
Unless otherwise noted, pin cites to Docket Entry Number 1 refer to the pagination automatically generated
by the Court’s electronic filing system.
Soon thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that he began to experience headaches, stomachaches, and
fatigue. (Id.). Plaintiff also noticed parasites in his bowel movement. (Id.). Plaintiff alerted
prison medical staff, who ordered Plaintiff to provide them with stool samples. (Id.). However,
medical staff told Plaintiff that the tests came back inconclusive. (Id.).
According to the Complaint, in February 2022, officials transferred Plaintiff to Southwoods
State Prison (“SWSP”), and he immediately notified the medical staff there “of his issues.” (Id.).
Plaintiff’s symptoms got progressively worse, but medical staff insisted that nothing was wrong
with him. (Id.). The medical staff told him that he would be scheduled for an ultrasound and
would see a gastrointestinal specialist, but neither has happened. (Id.). Officials merely prescribed
Plaintiff ibuprofen, Tylenol and naproxen for pain. (Id.).
Plaintiff initiated this matter by filing the Complaint with the Court on or around July 5,
2022. (See id.). The Complaint names “John and Jane Doe” dieticians and medical officials at the
NSP as defendants. (See id. at 1 & 4).
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
District courts must review complaints in civil actions in which a prisoner seeks redress
against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), or brings an action with
respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). District courts may sua sponte dismiss any
claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which the court may grant relief, or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). Because Plaintiff has initiated an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 with respect to prison conditions and has named “John and Jane Doe” dieticians and
medical officials at the NSP as defendants, screening is appropriate in this case.
The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Sections 1915A(a) and 1997e(c) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d Cir.
2008); Mitchell v. Dodrill, 696 F. Supp. 2d 454, 471 (M.D. Pa. 2010). A court properly grants a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the
complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled
to relief. See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233.
To survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege
“sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the [alleged] misconduct.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While courts
liberally construe pro se pleadings, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their
complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013)
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Compl.). To state a claim
for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (i) that the conduct complained of was
“committed by a person acting under color of state law;” and (ii) that the conduct deprived the
plaintiff of a federally secured right. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1983). The
Court liberally construes the Complaint as asserting Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement
and inadequate medical care claims against the defendants. The Court addresses each claim in
Conditions of Confinement Claims
The Court first addresses Plaintiff’s conditions of confinement claims against “John and
Jane Doe” prison dieticians regarding cold, unsanitary food. “The Constitution requires ‘that
prisoners be served nutritionally adequate food that is prepared and served under conditions which
do not present an immediate danger to the health and well being of the inmates who consume it’ .
. . .” Mora v. Camden County, No. 09-4183, 2010 WL 2560680, at *8 (D.N.J. June 21,
2010) (quoting Robles v. Coughlin, 725 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation omitted)). Although
an inmate’s diet must provide adequate nutrition, corrections officials may not be held liable unless
the inmate shows: (i) that the deprivation was sufficiently serious (an objective component); and
(ii) that the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind (a subjective component).
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Duran v. Merline, 923 F. Supp. 2d 702, 719–20
The first element is satisfied when an inmate is deprived of “the minimal civilized measure
of life’s necessities.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). Isolated instances of
contaminated or spoiled food do not amount to a sufficiently serious deprivation. Duran, 923 F.
Supp. 2d at 720; Nickles v. Taylor, No. 09-0557, 2010 WL 1949447, at *5 (D.N.J. May 14, 2010)
(“A single or occasional incident involving spoiled food is insufficient to show that Plaintiff has
been denied life’s necessities.”).
The second element is satisfied when an inmate shows that officials acted with deliberate
indifference to the inmate’s health or safety. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302–03. Deliberate indifference
is a “subjective standard of liability consistent with reckless as that term is defined in criminal
law.” See Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 811 (3d Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). To be liable, the
prison official must know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official
must be both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of
serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836–37.
Nonetheless, a defendant’s knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm “can be proved
indirectly by circumstantial evidence to the effect that the excessive risk was so obvious that the
official must have known of the risk.” Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120, 131 (3d Cir. 2001).
Here, Plaintiff’s allegations that dieticians served him cold, unsanitary food might amount
to a sufficiently serious deprivation if it happened repeatedly, see Duran, 923 F. Supp. 2d at 719–
20, but the Complaint fails to allege or plead sufficient facts for the Court to infer reasonably that
officials served him unsanitary food on more than one occasion. Moreover, the Complaint also
fails to allege or plead sufficient facts for the Court to infer reasonably that the prison dieticians
acted with the requisite state of mind. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 836–37. For example, Plaintiff does
not allege or plead any facts suggesting that the dieticians were subjectively aware that the food
was unsanitary, but failed to reasonably respond and continued to serve it to him. Accordingly,
the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s conditions of confinement claims without prejudice for failure to
state a claim.
B. Inadequate Medical Care Claims
The Court next considers Plaintiff’s claims against “John and Jane Doe” medical officials
at NSP for inadequate medical care. The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment requires that prison officials provide inmates with adequate medical care.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103–04 (1976). To state a claim of inadequate medical care in
violation of the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must allege facts showing: (i) a serious medical
need and (ii) acts or omissions by prison officials that indicate deliberate indifference to that need.
Id. at 106. To show deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege and plead enough factual matter
to allow the court to infer reasonably that the official was subjectively aware of a substantial risk
of serious harm and that the official disregarded that risk. See id.; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
In this matter, Plaintiff fails to plead sufficient facts for the Court to infer reasonably that
any particular John or Jane Doe defendant3 knew of a substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff’s
health. For example, Plaintiff does not clearly allege to whom, if anyone, he described his
symptoms, what particular symptoms he described, or what symptoms, if any, any particular
defendant actually observed or detected such that the Court could infer reasonably that the
defendants were aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of
serious harm exists. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Chapolini v. City of Philadelphia, No. 22-284,
2022 WL 815444, at *16 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 17, 2022) (“Chapolini has not tied any of his allegations
to any defendant. Instead, he states generally that medical and/or correctional staff refused the
complaints but does not allege any specific individuals involved with the refusals.”). Accordingly,
the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s medical care claims without prejudice for failure to state a claim.
For the reasons stated above, the Court DISMISSES the Complaint in its entirety without
prejudice. An appropriate order follows.
Dated: November 13, 2023
s/ Esther Salas
Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.
Although it is proper for a Section 1983 plaintiff to use a “Doe” pleading until such time as his or her identity
can be learned through discovery, a plaintiff still must plead each Doe defendant’s personal involvement in the alleged
constitutional deprivation. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (“[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official
defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”).
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